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The Path to Unconscious Competence & The Deconditioning Cycle

Updated: Sep 2, 2023

The way we move our bodies is related to the activities we subject it to on a regular basis. Your body is amazing, and it’s always adapting to find the path of least resistance in it’s form and function to support your most frequent activities. This is both a gift and a curse in our modern society; Adapting to sitting all the time while craning our necks and rolling our shoulders inwards to work on computers, drive a vehicle, or obsessively stare at our phones thousands of times per day, leads to certain adaptations that are unsustainable.

These adaptations are all the buzz-word structural problems that everyone is trying to correct; “Forward head posture”, “rounded shoulders”, “anterior/posterior pelvic tilt/shift” are all examples of adaptations to unnatural movement behaviours and an imbalance in the proportion of the variety of movements we engage in on a daily basis. Bad posture isn’t caused by a failure to force yourself to sit straight, it’s a poor movement lifestyle.

Human bodies need a balanced proportion of walking, running, getting up and down from the ground, throwing, lifting, carrying, jumping, climbing, and more. We don’t need equal amounts of each of those, it’s about how much we would be required to use each movement skill in the natural environment our bodies were designed for. We need a lot more walking than we do jumping.

The good news is, people did spend a lot of time sitting around, usually on the ground in many different positions, but without a balance of the rest of our macro- and micro-movement nutrients, our bodies start to deform to support our specialization. This almost always leads to abnormal pain and tension, and a tendency to injure the weakest links in the chain.

Natural Movement training aims to re-educate people in how to use their bodies, reintegrating a balance of the various human movements necessary for maintaining a strong, flexible, and adaptable body. By understanding the de-conditioning cycle, we can break the cycle of disuse/misuse leading to de-conditioning and pain, and develop our ability to move freely and without fear or injury or incompetence.

The Deconditioning Cycle

For all humans, moving naturally is, and always will be, a biological necessity. Natural Movement represents a reclamation of our authentic human movement, and a departure from how sedentary culture has been degrading us. Let me repeat that, natural movement is not an optional addition to your health insurance, it’s a biological necessity, and without it, or when there are dysfunctions in it, we suffer.

When this necessity is neglected, we suffer from the symptoms of disuse. Disuse happens when we fail to stimulate certain patterns of movement over a long period of time. The body begins adapting to the sedentary demands you are placing on it. If you sit all the time, your body will adapt to be better at sitting all the time. That is simply not what nature has designed us for. This state of disuse will ultimately manifest as chronic pain and abnormal tension, a deconditioned body, and fear of movement resulting from the misuse of the body in a deconditioned state.

Through the path to unconscious competence, we discover what we can’t do, learn how to do it, and eventually develop the competence to do it well without having to think about it. That level of unconscious competence in the application of natural movements is what all humans should strive for to be able to truly physically express themselves, and deeper than that, to be able to evolve and more deeply explore our relationship to nature.

Natural movements include walking, running, balancing, getting up and down from the ground, jumping, running, climbing, moving around on the ground, lifting, carrying, throwing, catching, swimming, and more. Biomechanist and author Katy Bowman talks about “movement nutrients”, to symbolize the essential need for a balanced intake of various movement patterns. Some are macronutrients like walking, and getting up and down. Others are micronutrients, like lifting, and swimming. Others lie in between such as climbing, and jumping. The point is that, biologically we need a lot more walking than we do lifting and jumping. We don’t need an equal amount of each movement nutrient, what we need is the right proportions that match the proportions of how much we used these movements in our natural environment.

Not getting enough of certain movements is the problem of sedentarism. There is also the issue of getting too much of a movement, such as spending too much time sitting, which is obvious. This could also involve too much focus on one skill, such as lifting weights. Focusing too much on weight lifting and not enough on the movements that require adaptability and fluidity will lead to vulnerability to stress injuries and abnormal pain from tension. Even just focusing too much on training and not enough on rest can cause more harm than good. If we are going to build a balanced proportion of human movements that reflect our long-term evolutionary adaptations, we also have to consider how we proportion our work and rest cycles.

MovNat is a system of Natural Movement education and training that build physical competence, restores natural human movement capabilities and addresses the root cause of sedentary self-destruction. Honouring the natural balance of our bodies and the wide range of movement abilities that should be available to all healthy humans, leads to a balanced and fulfilling lifestyle, and the process is fun and rewarding.

Path to Unconscious Competence

We start off being unaware of our lack of ability or efficiency in movement. Once we become aware of our ineptitude, we are conscious of our incompetence. Once we learn how to move efficiently, we can execute a skill properly, but it requires a lot of conscious effort. After enough practice and deliberate mindful training, we can perform the skill properly without thinking about it. This is unconscious competence.

Unconscious competence is the ultimate goal is physical re-education. For example, you may exhibit a number of inefficiencies when you run. At first you are oblivious to these inefficiencies, this is the state of unconscious incompetence. Once someone points out that you’re heel-striking and explains how that is harmful, suddenly you are self-conscious about this when you are running, but you may not be able to understand how to change it. This is conscious incompetence. If the person explains how taking smaller strides and landing each step directly under your center of gravity will help correct your heel strike, you’ll probably be able to correct your heel-strike as long as you’re maintaining concentration of running correctly. In this state of conscious competence, if your focus waivers, you’ll probably revert to your old habits. Conscious competence requires concentration to maintain correct technique. Finally after lots of practice, your “default” running pattern has been replaced by the correct technique and you no longer require concentration to maintain proper form. This is unconscious competence.

Once you reach unconscious competence, the skill has been fully integrated and truly belongs to you. At this point you can be more expressive with your movement. Identifying which movements need the most recalibration is a big part of Natural Movement training, as we want to raise all of our innate movement skills to a equalized baseline before prioritizing any desired specializations.

What this really is all about is movement freedom. This is freedom to move without fear of pain or injury; and freedom to express yourself and interact with people and your environment in any way you can imagine; and the freedom to be able to help and be useful to those you love. Your body is your vessel. That vessel can be a prison, or a vehicle, depending on how you cultivate it.

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